While examining Henry O. Studley’s toolbox, the most impressive moment was when all the tools had been removed and set aside. At that moment, I understood Studley as a joiner, not just a somewhat obsessive tool collector.
The box alone is a remarkable piece of work. Studley’s attention to detail extended to every surface that could be seen or touched. Don Williams – the author of the forthcoming book “Virtuoso” – and I spent a long morning measuring the major components of the chest. And as my hands passed over the woodwork, I felt I finally knew the man.
The visible screws were clocked; the others were not. Layout lines from his gauge and knife were clearly visible on many joints. His dovetails had a dramatic sweep – easily 14°. The inside components of the box were neatly dovetailed at key points.
But most of all, his design – his vision – was consistent. As I was calling out the details of the toolbox’s construction I began to understand Studley’s work patterns. Here are some preliminary insights I have cobbled together.
• The man loved coves. Many of his shopmade tools have tiny small coves at key transition points. All his gauges, for example, have small 1/16” x 1/16” coves on the ends of their beams. His mallet had this same cove in brass on the head. And on and on.
• He liked square ovolos. Many of the transitions on the chest are marked by square ovolos – a curve with two small fillets. This is the transition he would use between major elements of the toolbox.
• Small coves and fillets filled in the gaps. In many areas, Studley used ebony coves with small fillets to fill in the inside corners of his design.
• Surprisingly few ogees. The chest has a fair number of ogee shapes, but many of these are hidden to the casual eye. The cubbyholes for the planes had lots of ogees, but you can’t see these until every tool is removed.
• Gothic, gothic, gothic. Many of the curves and shapes have a gothic flavor. That’s pretty unusual in wood (it’s much more typical in stone). All his chamfers on his gothic arches are perfection. Absolute perfection.
• No plane tracks anywhere. I looked for them.
You can see a slideshow of the details of the toolbox without tools here on Flickr.
After poring over the toolbox with a tape measure and calipers, I am firmly convinced that Studley was not just notable for his collection of tools. He was a craftsman worth remembering, documenting and celebrating – which is exactly what we are doing with “Virtuoso: The Toolbox of Henry O. Studley.”
— Christopher Schwarz